Tallinn, Estonia Report of what it's like to live there - 09/08/10
Personal Experiences from Tallinn, Estonia
1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?
2. What is your home city/country? How long is the trip to post from there, with what connections? How easy/difficult is it to travel to this city/country?
Washington, DC. Travel time varies, average 9-10 hours from DC to first connection in Europe.
3. How long have you lived here?
2 years with one more to go.
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
The housing pool has large comfortable homes in Pirita, townhouses in Kristiine, and apartments near Old Town, some nicer than others. None with pools. All commutes depend on traffic and weather. Yards vary in size, most with nice trees in or around them. The few houses I've seen have closets, but I can't say that's the norm. Kitchens are hit and miss style wise, but for the most part they are nicer than average. Your oven will be tiny. Don't bother bringing that 14" baking pan or large cookie sheet.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
For the most part you'll be able to find everything you need here. Use the DPO for those specialty must haves or specific brands. Cost is a bit higher than in the States.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Pure Vanilla Extract. Although, you could probably get that through Helsinki commissary orders.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
There are many nice restaurants around Old Town and beyond. Grab a guidebook. There are also cafes and less formal places to grab a bite. If you find yourself in Pärnu, a nice beach town 2 hours south of Tallinn, do NOT go to the Mexican restaurant on the main road to the beach. You'll know you're in the right (wrong) place if they have a kids play zone (complete with luring ball pit and slide!) and you had to park across the street.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
We've had problems with mosquitoes. Apparently ticks can be an issue. We were vaccinated at the embassy just in case.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
DPO and pouch. We used the local mail once to send a post card back to the States. It took 4 weeks to arrive at its destination.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Some folks have housekeepers, but it's not common. It's not cheap.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
Yes, many--from modest and reasonable to amazing and pricey.
4. Are credit cards widely accepted and safe to use locally? Are ATMs common and do you recommend using them? Are they safe to use?
It's safe to use cards and ATM's. You'll probably open a local account while here. The one we have issues a debit card which is accepted everywhere. On a shopping side note: Kids shoes and clothes are expensive here, but toys even more so.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
6. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?
7. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
None (hey the question says daily living). Learn the niceties and be diplomatic. For the most part the younger generation speaks English, and for the older crowd if you know even a little Russian that would help too. If you are an accompanying family member do not be afraid to go out and do things. People are cordial, but smiling is not common. Don't take it the wrong way if your server is not bubbly or falling all over her/himself for a tip.
8. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
They might get their wheelchair stuck in a pot hole or in cobblestones in Old Town. I don't think the embassy has complied with wheelchair accessibility, now that I think about it...
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Public transportation is safe, clean, reliable, and inexpensive. Crowding is common. They stop at every stop.
2. What kind of car do you recommend bringing to post, given the terrain, availability of parts, burglary/carjacking risks, etc.? What kind of car do you advise not to bring?
Whatever you drive, be sure to have all-weather or winter tires as well as a good spare. I haven't heard of anyone having a problem with carjackings. There is a lot of slush and snow piled up on the side of the road during the winter.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Yes, it's fantastic. Elion's Local/EuroTV-Phone-internet package is about $50.00. (note:It will take about 2 weeks for the guy at the Elion office to hit "enter" on his computer to start your service). The internet speed is good enough for uninterrupted slingbox and streaming.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
The embassy provides a phone upon arrival. It's not usually the best phone. Buy a compatible phone of your choice to use with the provided sim card. Return ugly phone (with card) at end of tour. Family members are not assigned embassy phones, but there are reliable local plans to choose from.
1. Are qualified veterinarians and/or good kennel services available? Do animals need to be quarantined upon entry to the country? Are there other considerations regarding pets that are particular to this country?
2. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?
Employment & Volunteer Opportunities:
1. What types of jobs do most expatriate spouses/partners have? Locally based or telecommuting? Full-time or part-time? Can you comment on local salary scales?
Depends on what you do, and it's been done, but generally no.
2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
suit and tie at work, sharp/clean casual in public.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Use common sense when hitting the town at night. Watch out for falling icicles-people have been killed by falling icicles.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
The medical care here is pretty good. Friends have their babies here. The water quality is good and safe. The embassy nurse is efficient and attentive.
3. What is the air quality like at post (good/moderate/bad)? Are there seasonal air quality issues? Does the air quality have an impact on health?
I think it's good. Our neighbors tend to burn questionable things in their yards once in a while, but for the most part we haven't had any health problems due to pollution. Litter on the streets is not a problem here.
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Cold, dark, long winters. You should, at a minimum, like snow and all it entails. Spring and fall are cool and gray, but summers will not disappoint.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
The International School of Estonia is the only option right now. You either love it or hate it. What it lacks in wow factor it makes up for in heart--at least that's been our experience in the lower grades. It's a small school with a small student body (one graduate last year!), so if your kids are looking for a teacher's undivided attention this is the place for them. After school activities are limited, but if you really want your child to do something, you can find it locally.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
3. Are preschools available? Day care? Are these expensive? What has been your experience with them, if any? Do the schools provide before- and/or after-school care?
I've heard good things about preschool here. There is an international daycare that comes highly recommended, but if you want to expose your little one to a different setting, there is a Russian school/daycare option.
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
Yes, but you'll have to search them out.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
2. Morale among expats:
Depends who you ask, and in what sense. Work and winters can tip the scale to the dark side.
3. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?
There is a good cultural scene here. Occasionally you'll get a big name artist come to town (Madonna, Sting). There are good US style movie theaters, with movies in English. Bars and clubs for every taste. Places for kids--indoor play, birthday party friendly. There's a nice zoo, although the hyena makes me sad. At some point before we leave we'll have to take the ferry over to Helsinki, or the overnight to Stockholm.
4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
I think it has something for everyone. This is not a huge city. After you see Old Town, it's up to you to explore and make the best of it for yourself. There are many indoor play places for kids. There's bowling. There are parks and running trails.
5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
I've heard of isolated rudeness, but nothing violent.
7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Playing in the snow, Old Town, taking summer day trips, touring castles and manor houses, hanging out in the yard with the kids.
8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Visiting old castles and manor houses. Going to the beach. Although the water is shallow, flat and not very warm (even in summer), beaches are local, and for a day on the sand they satisfy. It's a mellow place, or maybe we're mellow and haven't been out to explore everything Tallinn has to offer.
9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Wool and iron goods.
10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Estonia is a beautiful country with rich culture and history. You might not save too much money here, and the weather will be hard during the winter, but pollution and crime are non-issues. Housing is not glamorous, but comfortable, nature abundant, and the Gulf of Finland is a nice body of water to gaze upon.
11. Can you save money?
Words of Wisdom:
1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
Yes. This is a great place.
2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
SCUBA gear and honey products.
3. But don't forget your:
quilting fabrics and craft supplies.
4. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:
6. Do you have any other comments?
This is our 4th post, but the first one I'm really going to miss when we leave.